The benefits of publishing through a publisher 

shaking hands

licensed under creative commons. Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/89228431@N06/

 

I’ve written many times about why I decided to self-publish and the pros and cons of going down this route, often by comparing a positive of indie publishing compared to a negative of going through a publisher. Because of this, I may occasionally come across as being against anyone trying to gain a publishing contract. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Publishing isn’t a black and white issue. There is no universal right or wrong. When you are looking to get your book published, all routes should be investigated and only once an author understands the positives and negatives of each option should they decide which route is right for them and their book at that particular time.

Below I’ve listed the benefits of publishing through a publisher. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list and is written from the perspective of somebody who has decided to go the indie route for his current series of books. Also, the level of benefits will clearly differ depending on whether you are being published by one of the Big 6 (or 5) publishers, a specialist publisher or a small publisher. However, compared to indie publishing there are plenty of benefits to publishing through a traditional publisher.

No financial risk

When an author signs up with a publisher, it is the publisher who takes on the financial risk of whether their book succeeds or fails, not the author. The publisher takes on the cost to get the manuscript into shape, all physical (and digital) production costs, organises and pays for the promotion of the book, and pays the author an advance. If the book flops, the author isn’t responsible for recouping these costs. Taking on this risk is why the the publisher expects such a large percentage of the profit from each book sale.

Advance

Most good publishers pay the author an advance for the rights to publish their book. While these advances may not be as large as they once were, they are still much larger than the advance you get as an indie author – $0.

It’s also important to realise that many books do not pay out their advance. That’s to say, despite having the support of a large organisation behind it, the book doesn’t sell in enough volume for the author’s royalties to exceed the amount of the advance. That doesn’t mean the publisher necessarily looses money on the book, but the author receives more money than they would have done through royalties alone.

Access to professionals

One of the great benefits to going through a publisher is that you have access to a number of professionals. There are developmental editors, to help shape the story, line editors to help smooth prose, and a number of copy editors to pick out those nasty typos and grammatical errors. Then you have book cover designers and book interior designers, there to give your book the best chance of success. To pay for all this support would cost an indie author many thousands of dollars, and many of us have to choose just how much to invest at each stage, but if you have a publishing contract you get it all as part of the price for giving up some of your profit.

Marketing support 

There have been many articles written by traditionally published authors bemoaning the declining marketing support from their publisher but even if the marketing budgets are at a lower level than before, an author still gets access to marketing professionals help support their book launch. These professionals develop adverts, create and produce point of sale, send out arc’s to generate reviews and organising book signings. On top of this you have the publisher’s reps who push the author’s book when at bookstores.

Distribution

Probably the biggest benefit, and one that us indies look on with some jealousy, is that when going through a traditional publisher, an author has access to all distribution options. There have been some indies that have negotiated contracts with distributors or wholesalers, but the majority will tell you that they do well just to get their book in a local store.

Traditional publishers can get your book into the major stores, independent stores and supermarkets (if you are very lucky). This gives the traditionally published author a massive advantage in the area most difficult for an indie author, being seen.

Sense of validation 

This point isn’t true for everyone, but some authors feel as if they haven’t ‘made it’ until they win a publishing contract. The fact that publishing professionals have selected their work out of the many thousands of manuscripts they receive each year is a major boost to the author’s self-esteem. I’m sure there is nothing better than having friends and family see your book in their local store.

 

As I said before, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to publishing, just what suits you at the time, but to say publishers don’t have anything, or even enough, to offer writers is way off the mark.

For those of you who publish through a publisher, what are your thoughts on this? Have I included everything? Am I viewing publishing through a publisher with rose-tinted glasses? Is there anything I’ve missed? For indie authors, what out of the points above is the one thing you wish you had access to? I’d love to hear from you.

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Why did you self-publish?

question-mark

Why did you self-publish? This question comes up a lot, especially when people learn I chose to self-publish rather than do it as a last resort. The question is usually partnered with another, either direct or implied: why not try for a publishing deal?

Before I go any further, you need to know that I am not anti traditional publishing. This is not a rant about the ‘evils’ of the big 6 publishers or a diatribe against agents. I’ve read many blogs promoting self-publishing to the detriment of traditional publishing. Many are right to point out that the traditional publishing route is no panacea but as with anything in life what is right for one person is wrong for another. If your dream is to become a published author in the traditional sense then you should go for it. I wish you every success.

And to say that I didn’t try to gain representation would not be telling the whole truth. I did send out some queries – four in all – because it was what I was advised to do, but I soon realised this route wasn’t for me and here’s why:

Control

For me, maintaining control over the whole process was the biggest single factor in my decision to self-publish. This is because the act of sending out your query means you become reliant on others over the success or failure of your publishing future. It took me a week into waiting to hear back on my submissions before I realised this wasn’t for me. I’ve never enjoyed being reliant on others (this is not to be confused with working with others, which I’ve always enjoyed) and this was no different. I am much happier being the master of my own destiny. The moment I decided to self-publish it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders because I had taken back control over my writing future, and whatever happened next would be purely down to me.

Instant payback

I saw a conversation on twitter the other day where a person said they couldn’t understand why people chose self-publishing over traditional publishing because you have to invest your own money with no guarantee of a return. Let’s set aside for the moment that with the traditional route you can be writing and submitting books with no pay for years and have no guarantee of a return, and look at this further. To self-publish does cost money and the amount of return you get on that investment – at least initially – can be relatively small. However the costs of self-publishing are no way near as much as many people think. In order to publish my book I spent £30.43 ($45) for Scrivener – so I could write my manuscript and produce the .mobi file for my ebook and .pdf file for my paperback myself, £27 ($40) for an ebook cover and £47.62 ($70) for a createspace cover from goonwrite.com. Editing was free (from a friend who is a professional editor) in return for building him his website benjaminway.co.uk. While it is true that editing can be the largest single cost of the process, there are alternative options available.

With self-publishing you can generate an income almost instantly (thanks Mum and Dad), although you still have to wait 90 days to receive it as per Amazon’s standard terms. Don’t get me wrong, unless you are incredibly lucky this is no get-rich-quick scheme. Getting your book noticed from the millions already out there is difficult, and building a loyal readership takes time and a lot of effort. However for each book sold you receive some money. I managed to pay off the costs of creating Second Chance in e-book and paperback after the first month. After that, every copy sold delivered pure profit.

Lower threshold for success

To be seen as a success in traditional publishing you have to sell a lot of books. I understand this. Publishers invest a lot of money bringing a book to market and they expect a return. In the past, publishers would give authors two or three books to build an audience. However, as Hugh Howey points out in his post The New Top-Down Approach, publishers nowadays expect almost instant success. Of all the books released by new authors, only one or two become major hits. The rest either receive less marketing support (making it even harder to become a success) or are dropped.

With self-publishing you don’t need to sell huge volumes of books to make a living (or to supplement an existing income). There are tens of thousands of self-published authors who make a good income from self-publishing, many of whom you have never heard of. When I started writing my goal was never to become a famous author but to earn a living doing what I love (OK, this was a secondary goal. My first goal was to write something somebody , somewhere might like). I am a long way off that target as yet but I can see a path to get there. Keep writing, keep publishing book and gradually build an audience.

The low-risk career option

While this didn’t come into my thinking at the time, those of you who are still unsure about which route to take should know that deciding to self-publish does not automatically exclude you from the traditional publishing route. In reality, successfully building an audience through self-publishing makes you a more attractive option for traditional publishers because you have a ready-made readership. In the New Top Down approach, Hugh Howie takes it one step further by asking why anyone nowadays would want to try the traditional route as a first option? The chances of success are slim and if you try do eventually get published and for whatever reason your book isn’t a success, once dropped from one publisher it is very difficult to get a contract with another. He argues any savvy new writer would choose to self-publish and build an audience so that they could negotiate with a traditional publisher from a strong position.

 

While the answer for each writer will be different, the arguments to self-publish appear to be getting stronger by the day. So where do you stand? If you have self-published, what was behind your decision? If you are pursuing the traditional route, what are the attractions for you? Then there are those of you who are published by small, independent publishers. What has been your experience and would you recommend the route to others? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Remembering why I write

How did this all start? (image source: www.hipstercrite.com)

How did this all start? (image source: http://www.hipstercrite.com)

Anyone who has gone through a low period will know that part of the problem stems from the feeling of helplessness, how events take over, leaving you bereft of direction and purpose. Sometimes this is caused by a single event that knocks your world out of kilter, but often it’s a combination of smaller things that on their own are handleable but combined seem insurmountable. Then there is a third way, where the incremental events go unnoticed, leaving you to believe that everything is OK when it is anything but. I’ve realised this has recently been the case for me.

When I started my novel, I did so as a challenge to myself. It was my own George Mallory moment; I did it both because I had the opportunity and because it was there. Each day was a revelation. My first goal was to write a page, but not only was I able to write a page, I was able to write multiple pages. At first some of my writing was terrible, some not, but occasionally I surprised myself with what I had created. I also found the writing process therapeutic, it allowed me to explore ideas that had been reverberating around my brain for a while and at the same time rekindled a love of storytelling that I’d forgotten I’d had.

About halfway through writing my first draft I realised that this would be a great way to make a living. What isn’t there to like about making something up, writing it down and selling it? I didn’t change my approach to writing, I had always taken that seriously as I believe that if you are going to commit to do something, you should do it properly or not at all, but my goal changed. I was no longer satisfied with conquering Everest, now I needed to make a living from it. It seemed a natural extension at the time but through this change of goal I lost something. It wasn’t just that the goal had become larger, but I had lost control.

I continued to work on the book, finishing the first draft and then honing my story and prose through the editing process. And during the months editing – and it was many months – I gained confidence in my writing and my goals hardened. I was no longer satisfied with earning money from my book, I needed recognition. I had become convinced that only through gaining representation and eventually a publishing deal would I validate my choice to write a book. Because many of us who create – whether it is the written word, music, art, film or design – crave recognition, and what greater recognition is there than by those within the industry, the dream-makers, the arbiters of taste. With this final step the metamorphosis of my goal was complete. The problem was, not only was it infinitely more difficult to achieve than my original goal, more importantly it was completely out of my control.

Towards the end of last year I sent submissions to a number of agents. And waited. And waited. And the longer I waited the more this enormous goal started to eat away at me. Eventually some of them kindly wrote back to inform me that my book was not for them, the rest remained silent. And despite knowing that agents receive thousands of submissions each year and take on one, maybe two new writers; and despite knowing that of those manuscripts taken on very few will be first-time novels (don’t be fooled by debut novel on a book sleeve – it doesn’t mean first book the author has written, it means the first published), my self-confidence took a hit and I started to wonder whether I had wasted my time.

And it was all my fault.

Because I’d lost sight of why I had started writing in the first place. My goal had changed from something difficult but achievable to something incredibly difficult and out of my control. Worse, I had allowed this goal to become a validation of who I was as a person. It was as if I’d decided to buy a lottery ticket and if when my numbers didn’t come up judged myself a failure as a human being. It was a ridiculous thing to think but I had allowed it to happen.

So I’m taking back control.

I’ve decided to self-publish my novel, not as a means to make a living (though it would be nice), not to achieve another form of self-validation through whether people buy it or like it; but for myself, to show that I conquered my Everest. I plan to make it available as an eBook initially, hopefully in the next week or so depending on book covers etc., but at some point I will make it available as a physical book, if only so that I can put it on my bookshelf as proof of what I’ve achieved. Does this mean that I’ve given up on my dream? No, not at all, it’s just that I am not going to allow my dream to define who I am. And do you know what? I feel great. And I’m writing again. And I’m enjoying it. And that is why I started in the first place.